MIAMI — After their 102-90 loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, there was much griping from the Indiana Pacers about the officiating. Paul George referred to “home cooking” for the Miami Heat, while David West said his team had to learn the “new rules.”
The Pacers are down 3-1, facing elimination in Game 5 at home on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). And desperate times can call for desperate measures.
But less than 12 hours Monday’s deflating loss, Pacers coach Frank Vogel tried to get his team to refocus. His Tuesday morning message to his players before they flew back to Indianapolis was to “worry about what we can control. We know we’re going to have to play through adversity on the road in the playoffs. Our guys just need to put their focus on what we’re doing.”
“We can’t control calls. We got to control our turnovers, our shot selection, our passing, our defense.”
Tuesday’s focus was on offensive execution. The Pacers scored 90 points in a slow-paced game on Monday, but put themselves in a hole with an ugly first quarter and benefitted from the Heat taking their foot of the gas with a 23-point lead in the fourth.
Indiana looked rushed and flustered most of the night. The Miami defense has been increasingly active and physical as the series has gone along. And, as we’ve seen often with this matchup, the Pacers haven’t been able to handle it.
Instead of complaining about the officiating, Roy Hibbert was complaining about his lack of touches to ESPN after Game 4.
But Hibbert’s lack of touches is more about his teammates not being able to get him the ball than his coach not calling plays for him.
“Roy Hibbert’s hurt the Miami Heat more in the pick-and-roll game and on the glass in previous years,” Vogel said. “That’s where he’s put up his biggest numbers, while mixing in the post game. It’s not like he’s had success getting 20-30 post-ups a game. So that’s how we’re trying to utilize him and they’re doing a great job with their hands and deflecting those passes.”
These teams have now played 28 times in the last three seasons. The Heat know exactly what the Pacers are trying to do offensively and they’ve been able to take away their primary and secondary options, as well as force the Pacers to play fast with occasional pressure in the backcourt. So Vogel believes that his team needs to be better with its improvisational execution.
“We got to play through randomness,” he said. “That’s what their defense forces. It takes you out, often times, of what you’re trying to do offensively. And you got to play through random action. You got to create good shots through random action. That’s what attacking the Miami Heat’s about.”
The other end of the floor may be the bigger issue for the Pacers right now. The matchup of the No. 1 defense of the regular season and the No. 1 offense of the playoffs has gone decidedly the way of the latter. More important than Hibbert’s zero points has been the lack of rim protection he’s been able to provide. The Heat have shot 69 percent in the paint in the series, compared to 55 percent in last year’s conference finals and 59 percent in four regular season meetings vs. Indiana.
But if the Pacers execute better offensively, they’ll be able to get their defense set and have a fighting chance to slow down the Miami onslaught … and a fighting chance to make this series interesting again.